Eve and the ESV

Erica Schemper

Erica Schemper
November 29, 2016

As with most translation controversies, the ESV's change regarding Eve is a matter of theology and politics.

November 30, 2016

I love the ESV so I was a bit startled to read your piece. Somehow, I hadn't heard about the update until just now. I read the links in your piece, and I want to do some more investigation on my own, but one of my initial thoughts was, "Wow...how easily this translation decision will get politicized, and we'll miss how difficult this verse always was, even before the update."

The NIV puts the whole statement this way:

GOD (to Eve): I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Now for as long as I can remember, every pastor and Bible study leader I've sat under at church has refused to deal with this verse (along with several choice others) because of the misogynistic connotations. If you ask me, it seems to me that even before any alteration to the text, it sounds awfully unkind to women. But there's something nonsensical about the way it's rendered, too. I mean, how is this supposed to make men feel, either? Is God saying their wives' desire for them is their wives' curse? That's not really flattering to men, either...especially when the "and he will rule over you" seems to imply that men will dominate their wives (implying a misplaced desire in the first place). In a word, it sounds awfully "date-rapey" to me.

I don't have the resources to comment on the justification (or lack thereof) for the recent change. But I'll say this much: the feminist movement within the church was never well-served by any translation of this verse, in my humble opinion. It's one of those "embarrassing" verses that those adhering to plenary inspiration of the Scriptures have a hard time reconciling with an egalitarian understanding of male/female relations no matter how you slice it, wouldn't you agree?

Not trying to press a political hot-button here. I'm personally sympathetic to women in leadership, for what it's worth. I'm just not sure it's fair to level a charge of misogyny at the translators if--and this is a big IF--they believe this is a more accurate rendering of an already-difficult verse for women.

Neil Womack
November 30, 2016

The same Hebrew word translated "desire" he is also used in Genesis 4:7 when describing how sin is "desiring" Cain. I do not believe that the "desire" used in 3.16 then is a positive, loving affection; rather, it is a seeking to dominate and rule.

Bryan Amerling
November 30, 2016

Interesting article, thanks for sharing.

Per JKana's comments, I'm with you that the "curse" is date rapish kind of stuff. And I agree that feminism can't be served by it. But I also think so much of this is how we understand the verse. For so long, not suggesting you're doing this just that it has been done, it has been used to describe how things are and most pastors that I've heard preach on it have essentially declared "well that's just how it is, men are in charge." But that seems to be accepting the very thing we are not meant to accept; our fallen condition. By that I mean we have been saved so that we may join the Kingdom of God in countering the effects and destruction of sin.

I would read that verse in light of the "curse" motif; labor will be difficult and now there will be enmity between you and your husband. This is not what God wanted, it is the result of their sin. I wouldn't even suggest that God was now going to force them to have enmity, it's just how things go when sin enters the picture; relationships fracture. It isn't meant to describe marriage in such a way that we are to go "oh well, guess that's how it is. I'm the man and I'm in charge and I rule." If anything it is a warning of how things will go apart from God. In light of Jesus, I believe we were never meant to accept this verse as some declaration of how things "should" be, but rather a warning of how they will be unless we come to Jesus.

In my own marriage I want to counter this curse. I want to consistently crucify my desires to "rule" over my wife just as she is seeking to crucify hers to "rule" over me. We do that because Jesus gives us the ability to do it because he has freed us from sin. We aren't perfect at it and often our selfishness and our desire for power (namely from me if I'm being honest, my wife is far more along than me) overcome us and what happens? We argue and hurt each other's feelings. But we are not willing to accept that verse as an unchangeable reality. We won't do that. God saw our fallen condition and saved us, I want to do the same as best I can.

Hence, I believe feminism can be served by the verse because the church can declare "this enmity, this misogynistic worldview, this struggle for power...it isn't how it should be and we should NEVER accept it." For too long verses like this have given men the excuse to subjugate women or make them feel inferior. But Jesus set the example by forgoing all of his rights to show love and grace. Paul tells husbands to do the same thing, to die to themselves in favor of their wives. It would seem that we build the kingdom of God in a way that runs counter to the idea that power struggles in relationships are fine and acceptable.

Theodore Sell
November 30, 2016

Well, simply put, the "contrary to your husband" change does more accurately reflect the ancient scriptures. Spending some time with a Majority-Text Bible and a Strong's Concordance would clear that up for you.

November 30, 2016

Hello, that last comment on the meaning of "desire" was helpful. Words have connotations today that are different from hundreds of years ago.
Are men and women at constant conflict in marital relationships? I know that as a woman, I am constantly trying to lead the way when I think I know better. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't--know better than my husband that is. Is the scripture saying that this is the situation that will exist without trying to make judgment on the roles that women and men should play? Often the scriptures seem to be saying that this is the way it usually is and will be, and we tend to take an interpretation as to how we should act.

November 30, 2016

In Reply to Bryan Amerling (comment #29597)
What a beautiful and thoughtful (and very helpful) way to apply the meaning of this verse to real life. Thanks so much.

November 30, 2016

Interesting read. I have always been taught and have also researched this and came to the same conclusion. The passage mentioned about Eve having a desire for her husband, is for his position, the position of headship in the marriage relationship. I am not a misogynist or anti women, however I also see and understand the biblical model for marriage and totally agree with the model which helps me understand the passage. Adam did not lead in that moment of temptation for Eve. Adam was right there and did not lead or protect his wife; he was passive and let her be deceived. Adam let her down and so why would Eve not want to desire to rule in the marriage? It is a symptom of marriage today, how many men are passive and don't lead? How many wives then feel like they need to "step up" and lead their family? I understand because there is a vacuum in leadership the wife feels the need to lead and when the wife steps up the husband steps aside because typically I think men want harmony and companionship in their marriage and if they take a stand all of those wants/needs will be put in jeopardy. But what if the Man led boldly in all aspects and let his wife provide him support and opinions/advice/input into leading and the man respected that and her enough to listen? I think we would see a dynamic change in marriages and society as a whole.

Steve Sorensen
November 30, 2016

I find this tension is similar to the desire to read a "new science" interpretation into the creation account to gain credibility. Still, the text is right there in its non-poetic rendering.

I was talking with a former fellow student who went on for his doctorate as I was straining to finish my master's. We spoke on this years later. It was the section in I Timothy 2:12 on women not teaching or having authority over men in the church.

Again, the words speak for themselves; but he told me that position was called...and then he gave me a rather technical sounding term I can't recall ever hearing before...as though the plain intended meaning was one of at least two, perhaps three or more, interpretations on that instruction in I Timothy 2:12. And context really does not smooth things over either, as it does with Paul's explanation on head covering.

Spiritually in Christ, there is no male nor female; we are all one in Jesus, as Paul teaches. In heaven, who is going to attempt to usurp there? But now, we are here; in a very fallen world, pride assails us, the sinful nature in our flesh wants to dominate and exalt itself; the enemy, the accuser wants every advantage he can lay hold of to disrupt and confuse the humble and obedient testimony of the body of Christ.

God is not giving a command to be contrary to the husband or rule over the wife in Genesis 3:16. God is explaining part of the result of the fall; not only death and groaning in the creation until its redemptive release, but also the loss of a harmonious loving relationship between a man and woman. This is a result of sin. Now in Christ we have the spiritual resources to truly love one another, but being in this world we need the spiritual checks and balances our Lord commands in order to be that salt and light He wants us to be, shining in the midst of a very proud, self-promoting, challenging, demonically influenced dark world system. The world must see God's love as humility, pure, willing to serve, to sacrifice as Christ laid down His life for us. Obeying the sound words of Jesus and the doctrine (teaching) through His apostles that conforms us to this humble godliness is the only way they can see it as we share the Gospel.

David Barber
November 30, 2016

I'm in agreement with Bryan in regards to the nature of application of this verse. When we read the "new life" scriptures it is translated from the word zoē. Zoē consistently is used through out the NT to show a complete life, Spirit filled life, and a fullness of humanity that does not exist without the regenerative power of Christ. Jesus said himself, "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." - John 17:3. Eternal life is a knowing, which the greek here implies more than a knowledge, of God and Jesus. When else in Christian history have we been able to have that type of relationship? Pre-curse in the Garden. We must look back to the relationship of man, woman, and God in the garden to discover the true perfect intent of God's design. It was one of mutual work, withness, and growing. The curse decayed that relationship but it doesn't mean the curse reality is our only reality. It is simply the reality without the regenerative power of Christ that restores us into a fuller, more complete humanity, and zoē. One that rights the curse and gives us the power of the Spirit to overcome.

Mark Sommer
November 30, 2016

In Reply to Neil Womack (comment #29596)
I agree with Neil. Genesis is filled with parallel passages where the same phraseology is used for a purpose. This is one example. However, note that God is not giving Eve a command here, but is describing one of the results of the Fall. The harmony of the relationship has been broken, with both parties desiring to dominate. The word "rule" has the idea of ruling harshly in the Hebrew, describing well the often cruel patriarchal rule of the man over the woman. So, the ESV translation also fits a more feminist theology when taken in the context of the fact male and female are both created in the image of God. I don't think God is either commanding or approving a male dominated world — or marriage — in this passage. Again, this is merely describing the results of the Fall.

Lew Button
November 30, 2016

In appears to me that the proposed revision is closer to the sense of the text and context but I think Bryan's point is well made. We can and should transcend the curse. I have fought against the curse in my back yard whenever I plant a garden. The major task should be to translate accurately no matter who gets ticked off.

November 30, 2016

I really appreciate your comment! It's a difficult verse no matter what! I do observe this verse as a description of life after sin rather than a prescription for how things should be. Therefore I reconcile egalitarian views in that the description highlights that which we will be forced and inspired to overcome, in Christ. The movement from "for your husband" to "contrary to your husband" can be explained, yet either way describes a lack of unity, love, and respect between the husband and wife, and broader still between man and woman. Yet, I deeply feel the trouble you suggested and the subject remain on my mind often!

Glen Kjppei
December 1, 2016

I have seen so many teenage get all starry-eyed over their latest crush and write her first name and his last name on their book covers that I wonder if it should be translated,“Your desire shall be for a husband.”

Erica Schemper
December 1, 2016

I do agree that, in whichever translation, this passage has been significantly misused. Honestly, in the narrative structure of the piece, I'm sure "the curse" is not descriptive of how things are supposed to: it seems to me we should be working against the curse, right? Because as Christians, we are called, even in the waiting time, to move creation more and more toward God's intentions!

And I'll admit to my Hebrew being rusty, 15 years out from seminary. But when you start digging around the internet, there are so many scholars who are shocked by this translation that I think it bears some attention.

December 2, 2016

I chose to read the KJV as a kid because it was very hard to decipher. It was a welcome challenge and it just felt so different than anything I had ever read. A 12 year old doesn't get much exposure to Old English, though in grade 7 we watched a video in Old English and I was fascinated how the words used were unusual yet very similar to modern day English. So, i stuck with the KJV and the one I have was my mothers.

I have never heard of feminists being in church. I guess I'm from a very old fashioned church, though I thought our lack of dress code and loud Pentecostal sessions meant that we were very inviting to non-Christians. There were still women in leadership positions, but feminism would have been unheard of. My mother seemed like an anti-feminist.

Now I don't want men to rule over me. I will probably never get married but if I were to be so fortunate to get into a relationship I would not be with an overbearing boyfriend and question why another would feel he had to be protective of me. But I think changing scriptures in a way that it fits our own worldy views sounds sacrilegious. I was taught that we had to reject the world when we decided to follow God. That we lived in the world but were not from it. The Bible is also an ancient book and there were things that were accepted back then that we'd call misogyny now. So maybe, following the Bible to a T isn't in our best interest. What does it say about being trans? Hardly anything. It just wasn't a part of the ancient society. It's something I have had to grapple with and I think if God really did have a part in creating us and making us everything we are then that includes gender. To change that is like saying I reject how God made me.

Anyway, all versions of the English Bible are mistranslated. I wish I could read the original scrolls in Hebrew and Greek. I'm a purist. Original is always best. It's like in Chinese Whispers where the first message sent is the truer one.

Mark Sommer
December 4, 2016

"Anyway, all versions of the English Bible are mistranslated. I wish I could read the original scrolls in Hebrew and Greek."

Some good points, Spy. But don't be to keen on assuming that reading the original will get you closer to the "truer" message. Those who have studied the ancient languages, and have submersed themselves in the culture in which the scriptures were written for decades, still come to different conclusions. Any translation, no matter how literal, is still filled with assumptions that may or may not reflect what was trying to be conveyed to the original readers/hearers. And even the individuals reading or hearing it for the first time just after it was written brought there own prejudices and assumptions to the text. The best we can do is to "listen" to what has been given to us, and trust that God will teach us. He has promised to guide us by the Holy Spirit.
That might not seem very satisfying, but it is how God has chosen to do it.

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